What are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skill development is a very important part of the preschool-aged child’s physical development. Gross motor skills include the movement and coordination of the large muscle groups of our bodies. This includes the arms, legs, and other large muscle groups. Typical activities that utilize gross motor coordination and movement include activities such as running, jumping, skipping, galloping, and climbing, just to name a few. Children use these motor skills for every day activities like playing on the playground, riding a bike, and racing each other at the park, and it is extremely important that preschool teachers incorporate activities throughout the day that focus on the development of  these physical skills.

Fine motor skills, in contrast, are motor skills that use the small muscles of the body such as the fingers, toes, hands and feet. These muscles are used for smaller or more fine movements typically used in activities such as writing, drawing, and cutting for example. Both gross motor skills and fine motor skills are important to focus on for the preschool-aged child. In this blog post, I am going to focus on why gross motor skills are important. In another blog post, I will discuss the importance of fine motor skills and explore the idea that the development of fine motor skills is becoming less and less of a focus in preschool curriculum.

How do Gross Motor Skills Develop?

Gross motor skill development occurs from the head down. Babies first get control of their head and neck, trunk, arms, wrists, and fingers. The same happens with control of the lower extremities as well. Babies are first able to control their hips, then legs, and finally feet and toes. Manipulation of objects by using hands, fingers, feet, and toes will happen after the development of muscles from the head down.

Typical Gross Motor Development Milestones for the 3-5 Year Old Child

The following is a list of typical gross motor development milestones in preschool-aged children:

3 Year Old child:

  • balancing on one foot
  • simple bilateral movements of arms and legs (raising arms above head)
  • climbing ladders or playground equipment
  • can pedal a tricycle
  • walking up stairs
  • jumping in place with two feet together
  • walking on tip toes
  • catching a ball with body

4 year Old Child:

  • stands on one foot for about 5 seconds
  • kicks a ball forwards
  • throws a ball overhead
  • catches a bounced ball
  • can run around obstacles
  • can walk on a line
  • hops on one foot
  • jumps over and object and lands with two feet together

5 Year Old Child:

  • can walk up stairs while holding an object
  • can walk backwards
  • can walk on heels
  • jumps forward 10 times without falling
  • can skip after demonstration
  • hangs from a bar for at least 5 seconds
  • catches a ball using hands only

Why Are Gross Motor Skills Important?

Mastering gross motor skills is a very important aspect of childhood development. Gross motor activity impacts a child’s ability to participate in exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle impacts a child’s physical health and can lead to problems such a childhood obesity. Childhood obesity can then lead to diseases such a diabetes, hypertension, and other medical problems. In later years, difficulty with gross motor activities can impact a child’s ability to participate in team sports. Ultimately, the inability or difficulty to participate in physical activities in childhood can lead to social isolation, can negatively impact peer relationships, and can cause a problem with self-esteem and self-confidence.

What Can You Do to Positively Impact Gross Motor Development?

As preschool teachers we need to invent creative ways to practice gross motor development. Much of this can be done outside and involves visiting parks and play structures. Playing on a swing set at the playground can help children develop movement and coordination of the leg muscles as well as trunk stability. Going to the park and playing with a parachute is a fun and engaging way for preschoolers to develop gross motor skills as well. Riding toys, climbing walls and play structures, and using a variety of balls for free play and programmed play are other ways to encourage gross motor development. We can also find creative ways to encourage the use of large muscles inside our preschool. Place tape on the floor and have the children walk on the line individually and together. You can add music as well to make it a game. This type of activity can help to promote balance, coordination, and stability of movement. Tape letter posters on the floor and have the children jump to the letter you call out. this activity can help with gross motor skill development and literacy all at once! The ideas don’t have to be complicated, simple and fun usually wins with preschoolers!

Parents can also help their children with development of gross motor skills. Here are some ideas for parents:

  • Visit Playgrounds: There are many new and wonderful playgrounds and play structures available to families these days. These playgrounds often offer children opportunities for climbing, balancing, hanging, spinning, and swinging among other fun and engaging physical activities.
  • Play Ball: Tossing a variety of balls around with your children can help them to develop key gross motor skills. Bouncing a ball back and forth, playing catch with a variety of sized balls, dribbling a basketball, and kicking a soccer ball are all fun and easy things you can do with your children that helps to build physical skills as well as confidence.
  • Embrace the great outdoors: Spending time outside in nature is something children love. Go on a walk to look for bugs, take a hike or a family bike ride. Explore your neighborhood and your city. Kids love to explore!
  • Create an obstacle course: Kids love obstacle courses. Set one up in your backyard and time your kids. Most kids love racing and having friendly competitions.
  • Ride a bike: Riding tricycles and bicycles with and without training wheels, helps with coordination, movement, and balance. Many three year old children are able to ride a two wheel bicycle without training wheels. Balance bikes and scooters are also great ways to get your kids moving and having fun with riding equipment. Just remember kids should always wear a helmet on a bicycle and/or scooter to prevent serious head injury from a fall.
  • Try a new Sport: There are so many physical activities available to preschool-aged children now. If your resources allow, sign your child up for a sport that will help them increase their physical abilities as well as their self-confidence. Some examples of great activities for preschool-aged children include martial arts, swimming lessons, soccer, gymnastics, and dance.